5 Leaders Appeal for EC Help Over Ukrainian Grain

Ukraine Crisis

Photo by rarrarorro / Shutterstock.com

The Hungarian Parliament voted to accept Finland into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization on March 27, with a tally of 182 for, six against, and no abstentions. While Hungary’s choice to support the bid came after that of fellow holdout Turkey, the ratification in Budapest took place before lawmakers in Ankara officially accepted Finland’s accession on March 30.

Finland officially joined NATO on April 4, expanding the length of the alliance’s border with Russia by some 1,300 kilometers (810 miles) after the historically-neutral Nordic country had decided to join following Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine last year. Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin welcomed the ratification of her nation’s bid before her party lost its majority in the Finnish parliamentary elections on April 2.

Although Finland’s bid had occurred concurrently with that of neighboring Sweden, Turkey and its ally Hungary continue to withhold their approval in the latter case, despite claims from members of the Hungarian government purporting to be in favor of the accession. In an interview with Turkish state television on April 3, President Katalin Novák said she backed Sweden’s accession, believing it would strengthen the alliance.

However, she also acknowledged the concerns of MPs from the governing Fidesz party, considering “unbased, biased statements” by Swedish representatives that, she said, called Hungarian democracy “into question.” Turkish lawmakers have likewise been irked by comments from Swedish politicians over democratic standards and human rights abuses in their country.

Turkey also believes that Sweden harbors members of what it considers terrorist groups, demanding their extradition as a step toward ratifying Swedish membership, some of which Swedish courts have impeded. Ultimately, Novák said that “we should now put these issues aside and say that now, in this very difficult and demanding situation, we have more reasons to accept Sweden into NATO than to refuse it,” she said.

Flood of Grain

Meanwhile, the leaders of Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Slovakia addressed a joint letter to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, asking her to take steps to manage the unsustainable situation caused by the flood of grain imports from Ukraine, according to a statement from the Hungarian Ministry of Agriculture on April 1.

In the letter, the five leaders requested that von der Leyen raise the allocation of resources for affected farmers, weigh EU grain purchases for humanitarian purposes, and roll back exemptions from customs duties and import quotas. All have a direct land border with Ukraine, except for Bulgaria.

The European Union’s decision to waive customs duties on Ukrainian farm products to expedite their export resulted in an “unprecedented” volume of grain and oilseed imports into neighboring countries, according to Hungarian Minister of Agriculture István Nagy.

Earlier, the minister had ordered strict quality and food chain safety checks for grain flooding into Hungary from Ukraine. A subsequent investigation coordinated by the National Food Chain Safety Office (Nébih) over the past few weeks revealed that corn imported from Ukraine had been contaminated with mycotoxins in three cases. At the same time, three samples also indicated positive results for GMOs. The agriculture ministry also reported that more than 29 tonnes of corn from Ukraine inspected in Békés county was found to be contaminated with chaffed corn seeds and was subsequently slated for destruction.

This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of April 11, 2023.

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